The idea to do a trip using non-synthetic materials grew out of curiosity. I wanted to explore the history of canoeing and experience something like how they traveled in the past, before ultra-lightweight and waterproof everything was the norm.
I began contacting people who made boots, blacksmiths, companies that stitched together packs and tents. I built a canoe. With an outfit complete, I headed off for a test run in the Boundary Waters. During the trip, I discovered that it was much more meaningful to use things you or someone you had contact with made.
The same outfit (but with one more person and a tandem canoe) will set out in June, 2014 to retrace Mina Hubbard's famous 1905 journey -
A Brief History of Mina Hubbard's Expedition
By January 1904, Mina Hubbard had not heard from her husband for over six months. A telegraph, brought news that the fears that had left her sleepless and sick with anxiety, confirmed what she could not accept: her husband Leonidaes, was dead. Alone in a tent, he had starved to death in the wilderness of Labrador.
She was thrown into a fit of mourning she was only able to awake from once she decided to go to Labrador herself and complete the journey her husband had set out to complete. With virtually no outdoor experience, she and four guides ventured towards the Ungava coast, a journey that would take them through one of the last unmapped corners of North America.
At the same time, Dillon Wallace, who was with Mina's husband two years before, had returned to give the route another try. He had recently published a book that painted her husband as an incompetent and weak leader, responsible for the decisions that led to their disastrous expedition. Mina, upset at what she saw as an unjust portrayal of her husband, referred to Wallace as, "course and common...positively repulsive."
Now the two were rivals in a race to be the first to complete the route and reach the Ungava Bay. Mina was accompanied by four remarkable guides, one of who was George Elson, a half Scot half Cree who was also with Leonidas two years before. From accounts left in her diary, Mina had a profound and joyful two months on trail, writing as they neared the end, "I dread going back. I think I should like to spend the summer like this always."
"I dread going back. I think I should like to spend the summer like this always."
- Mina Hubbard. Journal Entry, August 25, 1905
Then and now, it is a rough journey that ascends steep rivers and goes over long portages. But the physical challenge, combined with the isolated beauty of the land and companionship, woke Mina from her grief. Mina's journey is a testament to why people have sought, and continue to seek, these wild adventures.
For the definitive history of the entire Hubbard Saga, be sure to read:
By James West Davidson & John Rugge
A portrait of flawed ambition and unexpressed love, Great Heart is the definitive history of the Hubbard Expedition, and one of the best adventure books you can add to your library. While it portrays the personalities of those involved in the 1903-1905 saga, it is George Elson who emerges as the hero of book. His feelings for Mina Hubbard, and her feelings for him, create an understated love story that brings and unexpected poignancy to this adventure.